Rural Alaska

Storm expected to hit areas of Western Alaska damaged by last month’s typhoon remnants

Forecasters are tracking a potentially damaging storm on track to hit Western Alaska later this week even as communities there are still recovering from remnants of Typhoon Merbok that devastated the region last month.

The storm that’s now developing over Russia is expected to bring gale-force winds to the Chukchi Sea by Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Winds were expected to increase through Wednesday and remain strong on Thursday before tapering off Friday, said meteorologist Erin Billings.

The strongest winds are expected to hit north of the Bering Strait, Billings said. Winds are expected to be sustained at speeds of 40 to 60 mph, with gusts up to 75 mph in some areas.

Winds south of the Bering Strait are estimated to be sustained around 30 to 50 mph with gusts up to 60 mph, she said.

Some rain is expected to fall during the storm and the weather service warned of possible coastal flooding. The winds could cause additional erosion.

Joint Task Force-Alaska works storm recovery efforts in Golovin, Alaska for Operation Merbok Response

Shishmaref, Teller, Nome, Golovin and Shaktoolik are all expected to see some impacts from the storm, said Kevin Knowlton, emergency preparedness specialist at Kawerak, Inc., a nonprofit that serves the Bering Strait region.

Those communities are largely still in recovery mode from the last storm, Knowlton said, which makes it especially challenging to mitigate any potential upcoming damage.

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“Everybody at this point is exhausted,” he said. “And when they’re having to look over their shoulder at another storm coming, it might end up being just emotionally overwhelming.”

[Storm repairs move ahead in Western Alaska as freeze-up closes in]

Roads were badly damaged in Shishmaref during the last storm, Knowlton said. While repairs there have started, if the storm plays out as predicted he said it is unlikely the repairs could sustain another storm surge.

Low-lying areas of Teller could see some flooding, he said.

In Nome, repairs are ongoing to the seawall, Knowlton said. Many subsistence cabins along the southern coast were damaged by the last storm and the road to the area was damaged so badly that many people have not been able to reach their properties yet. The southern winds could again compromise those properties and hamper repairs to the road, he said.

Golovin was the hardest hit by the typhoon remnants. Nearly a third of the village’s houses were significantly damaged, according to an assessment. About seven will likely be uninhabitable.

In Shaktoolik, the berm that protects the village from the sea was destroyed during the storm last month.

The community has started rebuilding the berm, said Katelynn Evan, an administrative assistant for the Native Village of Shaktoolik. They hope to have the repairs at least partly finished this week before the storm is expected to move in.

It’s scary to see another storm surge move in on the heels of the last, Evan said.

“We do have concerns because you never know how high the tide can come up,” she said.

It’s hoped the berm will protect the village from the brunt of the storm, Knowlton said, but there’s always the possibility it will be damaged again by waves and strong winds.

“The biggest thing is all these storms coming back to back without any sea ice to be able to help protect the villages,” he said. “And the storms are coming earlier in the year and the ice is developing later in the year, so the vulnerability is for a greater period of time.”

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Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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